Two weeks ago a trip to Miami was not even on my radar. Then out of the blue an old college friend (both roommate and swim team-mate) emailed me about doing a relay for the Swim Around Key West. Sadly I had another commitment that weekend, but out of curiosity I went Googling for other races in South Florida (he lives in Miami) and - lo and behold - there’s a race in Miami April 17th!
Catch up with old roomie and his family? Escape from Ohio in April? Start my O.W. season 6 weeks earlier than planned? It was a no-brainer. The Nike Swim Miami was my first 10K, and it was… a useful learning experience. After a breakthrough 5K last fall at Big Shoulders in Chicago, followed by 7 months of solid training, I thought I had a reasonable chance to put down a decent time. 2:10, maybe? 2:15?
Alas, I didn’t come close to either of those times. 10K is twice as far as 5K, of course - but that wasn’t really the issue. I didn’t even put together a decent first 5K. Actually, I fell off the pace before I was halfway around the first 2500m loop. So what happened?
But first, the venue:
In a (theoretically) protected nook of the Biscayne Bay with a direct view of the downtown skyline, the Miami Marine Stadium lends itself perfectly to Beijing-style 2.5K loop.
When we arrived that morning, the place was packed with age groupers and their parents. There were other events on the day besides the 10K, and apparently one of them was the Florida open-water Junior Olympics. We had an hour or so to kill before the pre-race briefing, so we got lubed- and sunscreened-up and stretched out a bit. I tried to scope out the race course, but it was tough to even see the buoys at the far end of the course. I thought, “I have to swim around that… four times?”
There was a small cordoned-off warm-up area about the size of a standard Olympic pool, and I swam a few “laps.” The water was comfortable (mid-70s) but so murky that I couldn’t see my own hand pulling beneath me. I noticed Eva Fabian and her brother warming up next to me. The big guns would be out in force today, as I’d soon find out.
Funny thing about the “Marine Stadium” as a venue - the structure itself is in a state of total disrepair; I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s condemned (see here for some photos). An adjacent sandy beach and grass field served as the registration / vending / race briefing / spectator area.
One downside to the Marine Stadium’s semi-isolation from the Atlantic was the water quality. As the basin is closed in on three sides, it’s isolated from the typical flow of water generated by ocean currents. As a result, the water visibility was near zero. This is a problem if, like me, you use people in front of you to help navigate.
The race, in brief…
Got smoked at the start by the National Teamers. There were five of them, plus a Brazilian ‘08 Olympian and 2-3 others in that ballpark. Tried to keep up (stupidly) and catch someone’s draft, but they were out of sight soon enough. Inevitably, halfway around the first loop I was huffing and puffing and getting passed by Masters swimmers.
Swam by myself for most of the final 8K. Didn’t have any feet to follow, and the sighting (which I hadn’t practiced over the winter) tired me further. Got confused by a couple rogue buoys and stray boat (!) on the back stretch of the course… probably swam an extra 500-600m over 4 laps. “Feeding station” consisted of volunteers handing out tiny cough syrup-sized cups of water and energy drink. Had to take about 10 (1 or 2 at a time) to get even a minimal feed. Unless, of course, you had a coach to hand you custom feeds (not me).
Small but vicious chop on the final 500m of each loop… swallowed a bunch of seawater… the last 7.5K was basically one long “dark phase.” But I finished. 2 hours, 34 minutes, 15 seconds. Pace per 100m of 1:32 - 19 seconds/100 slower than my Big Shoulders pace! 27th overall; 2nd among Men 30-34.
Live to fight another day, I guess.